Biden’s ‘off limits’ invokes Obama’s ‘red lines’ after latest hack; are cybercriminals now in control?

Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

Perhaps the biggest difference between the Trump and Biden administrations can be summed up in one word – Respect. A major respect deficit is currently threatening to cause the US unimaginable pain and suffering, as America’s enemies keep a laser-like focus on the clown college currently operating out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in our nation’s capital.

The level of incompetence currently seen in American foreign policy and diplomacy is only rivaled in recent history by the very administration that Joe Biden was previously “one heartbeat” away from heading, former President Barack Obama’s.

In fact, some very obvious parallels can already be drawn between the Biden administrations recent attempt at mitigating the already raging global cyber-war with their “off-limits” list, and former President Obama’s attempts at the prevention of the chemical weapon fueled genocide carried out by the still reigning Syrian government, with his infamous “Red-Line” proclamation.

It would take Syria a year to call Obama’s bluff, and despite the perpetual tensions and conflicts across 4 administrations, Bashar al-Assad has lived to tell the tale of staring down the US government and giving it the equivalent of a middle finger on the international stage.

To many observers, Russian hacking activity since the infamous Biden-Putin summit just weeks ago seems like an acceleration of the same defiance Syria displayed less than a decade ago.

And much like his former boss, President Biden’s best attempt in the early part of his administration at puffing out and pounding his chest has already fallen embarrassingly flat. This leaves the president in danger of having his presidency defined by his failure to enforce this bold messaging, which was disseminated at a very critical point in which the world seems to have entered a new and possibly permanent new era in cyber-warfare barely half a year into his presidency.

If this is in fact the case, and the Russian government was somehow complicit at worse, or indifferent as best, then the US has no choice but to respond in spades. Although perhaps the most wide ranging and brazen espionage campaign in cyber-warfare history, the infamous SolarWinds hack, was executed during the Trump administration, the frequency and scope of attacks against high value targets never approached what we’ve seen in the Biden administration in “45’s” four years.

With many foreign policy thought leaders already pointing the finger at a what is being presented as a defiant President Vladimir Putin of Russia, it should at least be considered that the Russian leader may have lost the ability to either stay in control of, or stay a step ahead of the illicit cyber-criminality proliferating on his domain.

It could certainly be argued that even if the ransom demands requested by groups like the REvil Ransomware Gang, who requested a total of $70 million in their recent ransomware attack against IT services provider Kaseya, and netted 11 million in a recent attack against meat supplier JBS, were all fully paid and dispersed to the Russian government, that the long-term damage in terms of continued and/or new sanctions would far outweigh the benefits of any payouts from victims.

Even the massive Darkside attack against Colonial Pipeline only netted the hackers less than 3 million dollars after the FBI stepped in to assist the victims in recouping roughly half of the total ransom payout.

But unfortunately for Russia, the stain and stench from these attacks are carried into any future diplomatic negotiations, which begs the question: Have these Russian hacking groups become too powerful for the Kremlin to reign in?

The answer to that question, whatever it may be, certainly does not excuse Russia for the SolarWinds hack, which was the most ambitious cyber-espionage campaign in the history of mankind and undeniably carried out by that government.

The blueprint for SolarWinds was designed in the Russian based Petya/NotPetya attacks against the Ukraine, in that those attacks were also centered around injecting malicious code into an update for a widely used software product.

As the evidence of Russian based hacks continues to pile up, we are now far past the point where Putin must crush the illicit cyber activity in their country before things spiral into the final world war. But as the headline grabbing and brazen attacks by groups like REvil continue to happen on a regular basis, it seems to be less likely that the Kremlin is capable of putting the breaks on this most recent series of embarrassing and damaging attacks.

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Julio Rivera

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